Review: The Columbus Anthology

The Columbus Anthology, edited and with an Introduction by Amanda Page. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press) co-published with Rust Belt Publishing, 2020.

Summary: An anthology of non-fiction prose and poetry by Columbus authors, mostly relating to Columbus.

As many of you know, I write quite a bit about the town I grew up in, Youngstown. There’s a bit of irony in that. I lived in Youngstown for my first twenty-two years, the first few of which I have no memory. I have now lived in Columbus for thirty years. Apart from a book by Wil Haygood, I’ve read nothing about the town where I have spent most of my adult life. That’s not entirely surprising. Columbus is this town where most everyone seems from somewhere else (including a substantial part of the Youngstown diaspora), that is the only major city in Ohio that has grown in the last thirty years. All this is to say that I’ve realized that it might be wise to know more about this place I’ve called home. So I picked this up on a Small Business Saturday from a local indie bookstore.

The Columbus Anthology is kind of a cross between local memoirs and a literary journal. If nothing else, it serves well as an introduction of the literary talent of the city, a city that has produced the likes of James Thurber and the aforementioned Wil Haygood. It evokes a city that is “a good place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit.” It celebrates the music scene of past years around Ohio State, the legendary Buckeye Donuts, neighborhoods past and present like Bronzeville King-Lincoln and Franklinton, and those marks that we have become a big league city, the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) and Columbus Crew (MLS).

Here are a few pieces I enjoyed, taking nothing away from the rest of the collection. David Breithaupt in “Every Day I Ride the Bus” captures the unique ambiance and sights riders of the High Street COTA bus route.

“In a City Marked by Change, Columbus Crew SC Remains a Powerful, Unifying Force” by Hanif Abdurraqib recognizes the ethnic diversity of the city and how our soccer team brings people together across these lines.

Both “The City That Raised Me Has a New Face” by Tiffany Williams and “What Would Jane Say” talks about the Bronzeville King-Lincoln area of Columbus, eviscerated by I-71 and the observations Jane Jacobs would make here about the once vibrant life and decline of a neighborhood.

The city that has been the nation’s test market for restaurant franchises (and is the home of White Castle and Wendy’s) struggles to define a distinctive food. For Nick Dekker, a restaurant writer, it is breakfast and he celebrates the great places to start the day in “Breakfast with Columbus.” We’re also the home of Marzetti’s, known for salad dressings. In the family’s restaurant days, they were the reputed inventors of “Johnny Marzetti,” which showed up on cafeteria trays all over Ohio–that casserole of ground meat, pasta, cheese and sauce–great comfort food. Shelley Mann Hite writes about the history and her quest to reinvent the perfect Johnny Marzetti.

Turning to poetry, “Nighthawks” perfectly evokes that institution of students and street people, Buckeye Donuts where:

Smoke from the burning doughnut oil/infuses with the lonely

post-game colognes lining the formica/counter at the High Street

haunt simmering in the late night.

“Night Hawks,” Joseph Hess, p. 127.

“Walking in the Topiary Park After Snowfall in February” by Jeremy Glazier beautifully captures a place and moment in time and the evanescent character of our lives.

“The New Oath” by Hannah Stephenson with its repeated, rhythmic “If a child…” enlists us all to the universal moral commitment to protect and pursue the flourishing of children.

Fariha Tayyab’s “Thanksgiving” describes the immigrant who, drawing on their own experience of colonial powers, sees through our national mythologies as one “Migrating from one stolen land to another.”

This anthology captures both some of the distinctives of this city and its underside. It is a great place for writers to live (“Five Reasons Why Writers Should Move to Columbus”) and Fayce Hammond’s experience of assault that began at a gas station weeks after moving to the city (“Fear of Fuel”).

The anthology includes brief profiles of all the writers and it is a diverse group that represents the diversity of the city. It’s a good collection that allows one to see the city through many different eyes.

What Will You Be Doing This Weekend?

If you are in Columbus in mid-May, you will probably be doing one of the following:

1. Mowing the lawn. In May, it seems you need to do this once every five days. The cycle is like this: Day One: Cut the grass, Day Two: Watch it rain, Day Three: Watch the grass grow, Day Four: Debate cutting the grass but delay due to rain, Day Five: Cut the grass. Then repeat the cycle!

2. Fertilize the lawn. That seems a bit crazy in light of item 1, but Columbus people are crazy about their lawns. No wonder Scott’s Company is located in nearby Marysville!

3. Finish planting your flowers and vegetables. The early birds did all this two weeks ago and are at the garden centers looking for bargains. Worst case: you are going to the garden center for the first time and hoping you are not left with leggy, pathetic plants.

4. If you are done with all that you are probably mulching the beds, preparing to keep them moist on those hot summer days soon to come.

5. Then there are all those bushes and trees that have been growing like crazy–or things like our double knock out roses that suffered from this winter and need cutting back to live wood.

This is the month when it is wonderful to work in the yard. The summer heat of June hopefully has not yet arrived. But the cold, rainy days of April are mostly past.

So what do you do if you don’t have a yard? You can sip a cool drink and watch all those hard working people. Or you can indulge in one of those other favorite activities of people in the C-bus, enjoy a round of golf or go shopping. (For the sports-minded, both the Crew and the Clippers are away this weekend.) Of course there are other alternatives–a trip to one of our wonderful Metro Parks, a visit to an art gallery, or my favorite activity, rain or shine, a trip to your favorite bookstore!

Have a great weekend!

[Disclaimer: None of the above should be construed as professional gardening advice!]